Substance abuse

Douglas County steps up drug abuse prevention efforts

Jun. 20—SUPERIOR — With mailings and installations, the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services has focused on drug abuse prevention this spring. The first initiative, small black bags with a big message, landed in roughly 22,000 mailboxes countywide.

The Deterra bags are intended to raise awareness, protect the environment and prevent drug abuse.

“Putting those bags into the hands of residents is an evidence-based approach to helping people reduce the possibility of accidentally taking the wrong medication, overdosing on medication, and just bringing to light how important it is not to have these medications floating around,” said Deputy Director Dave Longsdorf.

“We’re hoping that people take that into consideration that those medications should not just be thrown into the trash, where then they can end up in landfills and end up in the water system,” said Public Health Officer Kathy Ronchi. “We want this to be something that people have in the back of their mind.”

Unused medications can be bagged up and brought to drop-off bins at the Superior Police Department or local pharmacies during business hours. The Deterra bags offer residents a way to neutralize and dispose of medications at home.

The plant-based material in the bag deactivates medications — pills, patches, liquids, creams and films — making them safe to put in the trash. Just put the drugs in the pouch, add water and shake.

It could save a life.

More than 2.9 million opioid prescriptions are written every year in Wisconsin, according to a news release from the Douglas County Department of Health and Human Services. When unused and expired medications pile up, they could fall into the wrong hands. Far too often, medications that get overlooked cause unintended harm or become a gateway to misuse.

Even if people don’t need the pouch now, they can hold onto it for future use. There is no expiration date for Deterra bags, according to Longsdorf.

“So it’s something that can sit on the shelf, can sit in the drawer until they need it, so we’re just encouraging people to hang onto them, or share them if they know someone else who might need to use it,” Ronchi said.

Additional bags, as well as larger Deterra bags that can neutralize substances such as vape fluid and illicit drugs, are available through the health department. Call 715-395-1304 to set up a time to pick up additional Deterra pouches.

A new public sharps disposal box was placed at the Government Center about a month ago. The metal box, similar to ones used to collect unused medication, can be found just down the hall from the Joint Law Enforcement Center, near the elevators on the first floor.

In the past, people were told to dispose of their needles by wrapping them up, placing them in a bleach jug or kitty litter tub and throwing them in the garbage, Ronchi said. According to the

Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources,

that is no longer the case.

“That’s illegal to do. You cannot be throwing any kind of sharps, any sort of biohazard — disposable syringes, that kind of thing — into regular trash, regardless of how you package them,” Ronchi said.

Options for disposing of needles properly in Superior are limited.

“We realized that none of the pharmacies were accepting sharps any longer, except for the Essentia Pharmacy at the hospital there,” Ronchi said.

Douglas County has purchased three sharps disposal stations. The first is located at the Government Center. The other two will be placed later this year at rural sites, most likely on county property.

Ronchi said people need to make sure their container of needles will fit. The slot is small, roughly big enough for a box of tissue paper.

The county has also run a year-long public service announcement on opioid abuse in Douglas County through gas station TV at Superior Kwik Trips.

All three of the efforts were funded by an annual $110,000 Wisconsin Substance Abuse Block Grant, Longsdorf said. The federal funding, issued through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has a mandatory prevention component.

In past years, much of the funding was used for treatment. Now that treatment is covered by medical assistance, the deputy director said, more of those dollars have been freed up for prevention efforts.

“Which really, in the long run, is a more effective and cost effective way of helping people avoid and recover from drug use,” Longsdorf said.

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